Do you have a passion for discovering the stories behind buildings and places? Find out more about what it’s like to be an Architectural Investigator at Historic England.
No two days are the same for our Investigators, whether they are out discovering medieval timber framed buildings or investigating 20th century public houses. The role of an Architectural Investigator here at Historic England is as diverse as England’s built environment, with a focus on championing our heritage for future generations.
Click on the links below to find out more about a typical working day for two of our current Architectural Investigators. You'll also find details of how to apply and what to expect from the recruitment process.
A day in the life of an investigator
When asked what we do, we often get confused looks. Just what is an ‘investigator’? If people imagine some sort of detective they will not be far from the truth. Like detectives, we are focused on uncovering evidence and establishing facts: in our case about a building or a settlement, when it was built, why, and how it has changed and evolved. We also assess its significance and character.
We belong to a multi-disciplinary team which studies historic sites, places and landscapes. Our buildings experts research a wide range of structures, from complex medieval castles to post-modern office blocks. Some have specialisms, but we all apply our knowledge and skills to any building.
Although we enjoy the time we spend in the office writing reports, the most enjoyable part is when we are out in the field. These examples of typical working days give a flavour of what we do.
October 2016 – starting a project
Rebecca Lane: Senior Investigator
Snodhill Castle in Herefordshire is on the Heritage at Risk register and has been taken over by a trust which is seeking funding for restoration.
Since little is known about the castle, my team is helping to establish a basic interpretation. I will work with one of the landscape archaeologists, help survey the earthworks, and examine some nearby buildings.
The day starts at 7am, when I pick up my colleague and drive to site. There we meet representatives from the trust and experts from the Castle Studies Group.
We explore the earthworks: could this level platform be traces of the castle chapel? My colleague gets excited about earthworks previously thought to be the traces of medieval fish ponds, which he thinks might be part of an Iron-Age hillfort.
We move on to discuss the sequence of phases visible in surviving elements of the curtain wall.
Next we look at the wider landscape, including the boundary of the castle deer park.
We end up at Snodhill Court, a nearby farmhouse. Previously thought to date from the 17th century, a closer examination suggests that one wing might be part of an earlier house. We note that the later phase of the building has reused masonry, perhaps from the castle.
This long day in the field has helped us to focus our forthcoming survey work on several important questions. We discuss our methodology on the way back and agree priorities. We need to ensure that the project focuses on the initial needs of the trust; wider research questions will have to wait until additional funding is in place.
August 2016 – fieldwork and research
Clare Howard: Architectural Investigator
Off to Carlisle for me, in search of the public houses converted or built by the government under the State Management Scheme (SMS) between 1916 and 1972.
These pubs were designed to curb excessive drinking, particularly amongst munitions and armament factory workers in Carlisle and surrounding districts. We are investigating them in order to identify, investigate and protect the remaining architectural legacy of the Scheme, which is celebrating its centenary.
The day starts at Carlisle Archives. We’ve chosen key pubs to research: those that were purpose-built, still standing and are best preserved. We examine their records, particularly original plans, and copy them for future reference.
We then head to the Spinners Arms, Cummersdale. The landlady outlines the history of the building. It was one of the new model inns designed by the architect Harry Redfern in the vernacular revival style, built in 1929-30. Comparison with the records from the archives shows that its exterior is almost exactly as designed, with some intriguing animal motifs along the lead gutters. The interior retains many original features. I write notes and sketch a plan of the layout while my colleague takes photographs.
On to the Cumberland Inn in the heart of Carlisle, built in 1929-30 in a Tudor Gothic town house style. We visit the first-floor restaurant. We are delighted to discover that much of the original layout survives, complete with panelling, fireplaces, seating and even lavatory cubicles! The windows incorporate stained-glass motifs to commemorate the people who designed and built the public house, something we haven’t seen elsewhere. Again, we compile notes, compare the layout with the archival plans and take lots of photographs.
It’s been a long day, but extremely productive and further research over the next few days will help to understand more about the pubs built under the State Management Scheme.
Meet our investigators
Senior Investigator, Historic England
Rebecca worked in the commercial sector for six years as a buildings archaeologist, and latterly as a historic buildings consultant before joining the Architectural Investigation team at English Heritage in 2010. She is currently responsible for a range of projects looking at Early Fabric in Historic Towns, and produced the new edition of Understanding Historic Buildings a guide to good recording practice.